Recently, new census data confirmed that most children younger than age 1 in the United States are members of racial minorities. For those of us in the field of education, these demographic shifts will have unprecedented effects, particularly for the future directions of minority-serving institutions (MSIs), institutions that enroll significant percentages of minority students.
As we think about the future of our nation’s educational landscape, it is important to recognize that a commitment to improving the future of historically marginalized racial, ethnic and religious groups need not be restricted to a dialogue taking place within the U.S. borders. In fact, MSIs in the USA can both contribute to and gain from a global conversation focused on improving the educational opportunities for students in varied social and cultural contexts.
In the USA, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are often highlighted for their pivotal role in improving the lives of Black Americans since their inception during a time of racial segregation. Now, HBCUs are increasingly playing an important role in the lives of Latino/a and Asian-American students. The demographic shifts that HBCUs are experiencing can yield fruitful conversations with universities both in the United States and around the world. For example, in Brazil, recent legislation has decreed a “Law of Social Quotas” for the nation’s public universities. This means that all 59 public universities in the country are now required to reserve half of new student placements for individuals from Brazilian public schools (where the majority of students are of African descent), as well as providing no less than a quarter of placements to students of indigenous ancestry in proportional numbers to their representations in each state.
MSIs in the USA also can learn from the ways in which other universities around the world establish networks of support and solidarity. In Ecuador, the Universidad Intercultural de las Nacionalidades y Pueblos Indígenas ‘Amawtay Wasi’ was founded in 2006 with the purpose of providing tertiary education to the indigenous peoples of Ecuador (comprised of 14 nationalities and 18 pueblos). UIAW has since built partnerships across Latin America and helped to create the ‘Network of Indigenous and Intercultural Universities of Abya Yala,’partnering with universities in Nicaragua (Universidad de las Regiones Autónomas de la Costa Caribe Nicaragüense, URACCAN) and Colombia. Similarly, New Zealand has three wānangas, higher education institutions devoted to providing education in the Maori cultural context. By highlighting ethnic and cultural heritage in their curricula, these institutions offer unique educational opportunities for local youth.
Likewise, since 2004, India’s National Commission for Minority Education Institutions (NCMEI) has sought “to look into specific complaints regarding deprivation or violation of rights of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.” Since then, NCMEI has reviewed applications by educational institutions to receive a minority status certificate (including universities). Most recently, Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) was recognized in February 2011 as the only central university in India to receive minority institution status. This allows JMI to reserve up to 50 percent of student vacancies to Muslim students.
Across the globe, higher education institutions are providing unprecedented opportunities for racial, ethnic and religious groups that have historically been unable to access higher education. Majority institutions across the world, which are becoming more diverse, have much to learn from MSIs in terms of teaching, campus life and advising. It is time to begin a global conversation that not only showcases the important work achieved by MSIs, but also fosters solidarity and collaboration across them.
Co-author Andrés Castro Samayoa is a Ph.D. student in higher education at the University of Pennsylvania.
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